Saturday, November 22, 2008
By Melanie Phillips
Saturday, 22nd November 2008
In the Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick makes the point about the piracy in the Gulf of Aden that I made here back in April and repeated on Question Time this week– that a major reason this menace has got out of hand is the spineless response of Britain and other western nations which have tied up their own hands through international law and ‘human rights’ doctrine. A Wall Street Journal article a few days ago made exactly the same point, noting that the British Foreign Office instructed the British Navy not to apprehend pirates lest they claim that their human rights were harmed, and request and receive asylum in Britain.
Glick broadens it out to the wider moral bankruptcy which is bringing western civilisation down:
The west’s perverse interpretations of human rights and humanitarian law, which bar it from handling one of the most acute emerging threats to the international economy, is a consequence of the West's abdication of moral and legal sanity in its dealings with international terror. In the 1960s and 1970s, when international terrorism first emerged as a threat to international security, the West adopted international treaties and conventions that tended to treat terrorism as a new form of piracy. Like piracy, terrorism was to be treated as an attack on all nations. Jurisdiction over terrorists was to be universal. Such early views were codified in early documents such as the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft from 1970 that established a principle of universal jurisdiction over aircraft hijackers...
And yet, over the years, states have managed to ignore or invert international laws on terrorism to the point where today terrorists are among the most protected groups of individuals in the world. Due to political sympathy for terrorists, hostility toward their victims, or fear of terrorist reprisals against a state that dares to prosecute terrorists found on its territory, states have managed to avoid not only applying existing laws against terrorists. They have also refrained from updating laws to meet the growing challenges of terrorism. Instead, international institutions and ‘enlightened’ Western states have devoted their time to condemning and threatening to prosecute the few states that have taken action against terrorists....
One of the reasons the international community has failed so abjectly to take reasonable measures to combat terrorism is because international terrorism as presently constituted is the creation of Palestinian Arabs and their Arab brethren. Since the 1960s, and particularly since the mid-1970s, Europe, and to varying degrees the US, have been averse to contending with terrorism because their hostility toward Israel leads them to condone Palestinian Arab terrorism against the Jewish state.
Until and unless the west comes to understand that its insane hatred of Israel – the country that serves as the west’s own forward salient against global terrorism – has been given traction by the international law and ‘human rights’ doctrine to which it so slavishly adheres, it will continue to write its own suicide note.
November 20, 2008
From the LOC archives of Alfred Palmer's strikingly composed large-format black-and-white transparencies shot in December 1941 at factories in Akron and Cleveland. White Motor Company, Cleveland, Ohio.
Who killed the U.S. auto industry?
To hear the media tell it, arrogant corporate chiefs failed to foresee the demand for small, fuel-efficient cars and made gas-guzzling road-hog SUVs no one wanted, while the clever, far-sighted Japanese, Germans and Koreans prepared and built for the future.
I dissent. What killed Detroit was Washington, the government of the United States, politicians, journalists and muckrakers who have long harbored a deep animus against the manufacturing class that ran the smokestack industries that won World War II.
As far back as the 1950s, an intellectual elite that produces mostly methane had its knives out for the auto industry of which Ike's treasury secretary, ex-GM chief Charles Wilson, had boasted, "What's good for America is good for General Motors, and vice versa."
How did Big Government do in the U.S. auto industry?
Washington imposed a minimum wage higher than the average wage in war-devastated Germany and Japan. The Feds ordered that U.S. plants be made the healthiest and safest worksites in the world, creating OSHA to see to it. It enacted civil rights laws to ensure the labor force reflected our diversity. Environmental laws came next, to ensure U.S. factories became the most pollution-free on earth.
It then clamped fuel efficiency standards on the entire U.S. car fleet.
Next, Washington imposed a corporate tax rate of 35 percent, raking off another 15 percent of autoworkers' wages in Social Security payroll taxes.
State governments imposed income and sales taxes, and local governments property taxes to subsidize services and schools.
The United Auto Workers struck repeatedly to win the highest wages and most generous benefits on earth—vacations, holidays, work breaks, health care, pensions—for workers and their families, and retirees.
Now there is nothing wrong with making U.S. plants the cleanest and safest on earth or having U.S. autoworkers the highest-paid wage earners.
That is the dream, what we all wanted for America.
And under the 14th Amendment, GM, Ford and Chrysler had to obey the same U.S. laws and pay at the same tax rates. Outside the United States, however, there was and is no equality of standards or taxes.
Thus when America was thrust into the Global Economy, GM and Ford had to compete with cars made overseas in factories in postwar Japan and Germany, then Korea, where health and safety standards were much lower, wages were a fraction of those paid U.S. workers, and taxes were and are often forgiven on exports to the United States.
All three nations built "export-driven" economies.
The Beetle and early Japanese imports were made in factories where wages were far beneath U.S. wages and working conditions would have gotten U.S. auto executives sent to prison.
The competition was manifestly unfair, like forcing Secretariat to carry 100 pounds in his saddlebags in the Derby.
Japan, China and South Korea do not believe in free trade as we understand it. To us, they are our "trading partners." To them, the relationship is not like that of Evans & Novak or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It is not even like the Redskins and Cowboys. For the Cowboys only want to defeat the Redskins. They do not want to put their franchise out of business and end the competition—as the Japanese did to our TV industry by dumping Sonys here until they killed it.
While we think the Global Economy is about what is best for the consumer, they think about what is best for the nation.
Like Alexander Hamilton, they understand that manufacturing is the key to national power. And they manipulate currencies, grant tax rebates to their exporters and thieve our technology to win. Last year, as trade expert Bill Hawkins writes, South Korea exported 700,000 cars to us, while importing 5,000 cars from us.[To rebuild the auto industry, November 19, 2008]
That's Asia's idea of free trade.
How has this Global Economy profited or prospered America?
In the 1950s, we made all our own toys, clothes, shoes, bikes, furniture, motorcycles, cars, cameras, telephones, TVs, etc. You name it. We made it.
Are we better off now that these things are made by foreigners? Are we better off now that we have ceased to be self-sufficient? Are we better off now that the real wages of our workers and median income of our families no longer grow as they once did? Are we better off now that manufacturing, for the first time in U.S. history, employs fewer workers than government?
We no longer build commercial ships. We have but one airplane company, and it outsources. China produces our computers. And if GM goes Chapter 11, America will soon be out of the auto business.
Our politicians and pundits may not understand what is going on. Historians will have no problem explaining the decline and fall of the Americans.
- Patrick J. Buchanan needs no introduction to VDARE.COM readers; his book State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, can be ordered from Amazon.com. His latest book is Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, reviewed here by Paul Craig Roberts.
by P.J. O'Rourke
The Weekly Standard
12/01/2008, Volume 014, Issue 11
Hello? Bailout people? Mr. Secretary of the Treasury Paulson? Aren't you forgetting somebody? Like me? I'm a print journalist. Talk about financial meltdown! Print journalists may soon have to send their kids to public schools, feed dry food to their cats, and give up their leases on Prius automobiles and get the Hummers that are being offered at such deep discounts these days.
The print journalism industry is taking a beating, circling the drain, running on fumes. Especially running on fumes. You could smell Frank Rich all the way to Nome when Sarah Palin was nominated. Not that print journalism actually emits much in the way of greenhouse gases. We have an itty-bitty carbon footprint. We're earth-friendly. The current press run of an average big city daily newspaper can be made from one tree. Compare that to the global warming hot air produced by talk radio, cable TV, and Andrew Sullivan.
There are many compelling reasons to save America's print journalism. And I'll think of some while the waiter brings me another drink. In the first place one out of three American households is dependent on print journalism*. And if you think home foreclosures are disruptive to American society, imagine what would happen if USA Today stopped publishing. Lose your home and you become homeless--a member of an important interest group with many respected advocates and a powerful political lobbying arm. But lose your newspaper and what are you going to do for covers on a cold night while you're sleeping on a park bench? Try blanketing yourself with Matt Drudge to keep warm.
The government is bailing out Wall Street for being evil and the car companies for being stupid. But print journalism brings you Paul Krugman and Anna Quindlen. Also, in 1898 Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal started the Spanish-American War. All of the Lehman Brothers put together couldn't cause as much evil stupidity as that.
Moreover, rescuing print journalism is a "two-fer." Not only will America's principal source of Sudoku puzzles and Doonesbury be preserved but so will an endangered species--the hard-bitten, cynical, heavy-drinking news hound with a press card in his hatband, a cigarette stub dangling from his lip, and free ringside prize fight tickets tucked into his vest pocket. These guys don't reproduce in captivity. And there are hardly any of them left in the wild. I checked the bar. Just Mike Barnicle, as usual. How's tricks, Mike? Where'd everybody go? Sun's over the yardarm. Time to pour lunch.
We print journalists are victims of economic forces beyond our control. We were as surprised as everyone else was by the sudden collapse of the reliable reporting market. We had no idea that real news and clear-eyed analysis were being "bundled" with subprime celebrity gossip, US Weekly derivatives, and Jennifer Aniston/Angelina Jolie swaps. We need a swift infusion of federal aid. Otherwise all the information in America will be about Lindsay Lohan's sex life.
Saving print journalism will be a bargain for the U.S. government. Nothing approaching $700 billion is required in our case. We'll settle for having the Treasury Department pay our tab at the Capital Grille. True, there is the danger that network television, with its much higher potential losses, will demand equal treatment. But this cannot be justified. Network television has been attempting to lure viewers for years with its low-interest programming only to have those viewers discover later that their brains are bankrupt.
Some taxpayers may object to a print journalism bailout on the grounds that it mostly benefits the liberal elite. And we can't blame taxpayers for being reluctant to subsidize the reportorial careers of J-school twerps who should have joined the Peace Corps and gone to Africa to "speak truth to power" to Robert Mugabe. Senators and congressmen may have their objections as well. They want first call on those twerps themselves. Twerps make excellent Hill staffers and can help elected officials angle for a cabinet post, such as Secretary of Hope and Change and Stuff, in the Obama administration. Obviously more twerps will be available if print journalism doesn't exist anymore. But I think we can ask America's legislators to make this sacrifice. (Memo to pols from an old hack, strictly on the q.t.--The J-school twerps don't smoke, don't drink, do yoga, and will tell DailyKos if you fool around.) And I think we can ask taxpayers whether they would prefer to pay journalists to harmlessly tickle keyboards at the New Republic or whether they would prefer to pay journalists to be in positions of influence on political policies that will wreck the taxpayers' lives.
Remember, America, you can't wrap a fish in satellite radio or line the bottom of your birdcage with MSNBC (however appropriate that would be). It's expensive to swat flies with a pod-casting iPod. Newsboys tossing flat screen monitors onto your porch will damage the wicker furniture. And a dog that's trained to piddle on your high-speed Internet connection can cause a dangerous electrical short-circuit and burn down your house.
P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
*For house-breaking puppies
Friday, November 21, 2008
What admirable timing for the release of Christopher Horner’s latest book, Red Hot Lies. In this hefty -- 406 pages -- meticulously researched (65 pages of notes and references) volume, Horner argues his case against global warming and its supporters passionately, angrily and, yes, most persuasively. The subtitle lays out neatly and utterly accurately what readers are in for: “How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed.”
Actually, it is in the very last pages of this book that the author spells out the reason he chose to produce this particular work at this particular time in history:
“And as I discovered writing this book, a school denying me access to its broadcast facilities [details of the incident are given earlier at length] was child’s play compared to the depths to which so many now willingly sink, including calls for imprisonment, violence and even death for the supposed ‘crime' -- though, in fact, heresy -- of refusing to accept a dogma that stands on the weakest of premises.
“These changing norms of behavior we are witnessing are in the cause of an ideological and political agenda threatening great cost to our individual and economic liberties. That doesn’t seem to matter. It is clear that dissent can no longer be tolerated, and no one is above using their position -- be it academic, governmental, political or otherwise -- to stifle thought that frightens them or threatens to upset the gravy train.”
It is with his ultimate paragraph that Horner brings forth forcefully why he has written this book, timing its publication to coincide with the expected election of Barack Obama to the presidency. “As the United States prepares to elect a President vocally in thrall to the global alarmist agenda, the question confronting us is what we are willing to do, in response, to fight back.” In short, he has written a forthright call to action against the global warming zealots of the earth and above all, those of the United States.
Written soberly, thoughtfully, yet even with an occasional appealing dash of wit, Mr. Horner’s book nonetheless will send a serious chill down most readers’ spines unless they are extremely well versed in the issues of global warming. By this, I am not referring to those issues that former Vice President Al Gore has been hyping so diligently for quite some years, thereby earning himself a Nobel Prize along with an Academy Award in the process.
To telling effect, Horner shows what he sees fundamentally as the very real threat that global warming offers the world by quoting what Czech President Vaclav Klaus remarked so succinctly at a conference in Italy in September 2007 on “Global Warming Hysteria or Freedom and Prosperity?”
“The threat I have in mind is the irrationality with which the world has accepted the climate change (or global warming) as a real danger to the future of mankind and the irrationality of suggested and partly already implemented measures because they will fatally endanger our freedom and prosperity, the two goals we consider -- I do believe -- our priorities.
“We have to face many prejudices and misunderstandings in this respect. The climate-change debate is basically not about science; it is about ideology. It is not about global temperature; it is about the concept of human society. It is not about nature or scientific ecology; it is about environmentalism, about one -- recently born -- dirigistic and collectivistic ideology, which goes against freedom and free markets. I spent most of my life in a Communistic society which makes me particularly sensitive to the dangers, traps and pitfalls connected with it.”
If Horner has been admirably prescient in his concern about the potential risks to our country from a President “in thrall to a global warming agenda,” consider for a moment that this book of his went to press just as an economic crisis was suddenly sweeping around the globe and what the impact this will assuredly have upon the climate alarmists and their ilk.
Time and again throughout his book, Horner details the errors and even frauds committed in the name of global warming, reproducing charts and even photographs that are certainly revealing even to those not passionate about scientific minutiae.
By a singular coincidence reported in the London Daily Telegraph of November 16 and described therein as truly a “surreal scientific blunder,” Dr. James Hansen, Al Gore’s chief scientific ally and much and seemingly justly criticized by Horner, had gone on record that last month was the hottest October ever recorded.
But what do you know? The reason for freak figures from around the globe based on Dr. Hansen’s readings were not based on October readings at all, but were figures from the previous month that had simply been carried over and repeated two months running. Dr. Hansen and his institute had to scramble desperately to revise their figures.
Horner could hardly have wished for such on-the-mark public support timed with the publication of his Red Hot Lies. The data in his book are difficult if not impossible to refute, and certainly give a reader bountiful material to win many an argument with greens and global alarmists. Definitely a book for our times, now, as we head into the Barack presidency, more than ever.
As Horner devotes considerable space and detail in his book to detailing the many errors and shortcomings of Hansen and Gore in regard to global-warming statistics, you can imagine Horner is already busily documenting this latest scientific blunder in press releases to coincide with the arrival of his work in bookstores.
- Cynthia Grenier, and international film and theatre critic, is the former "Life" editor of the Washington Times and acted as senior editor at The World & I, a national monthly magazine, for six years
Do you wonder why 2008 election data shows that the majority of Catholics voted for Barack Obama even though his record as Illinois state senator proves him the most pro-abortion candidate who ever ran for president?
Perhaps one answer is that on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, millions of Catholics will again be putting in their church's collection plate their annual donation to what the pre-printed envelope calls "Campaign for Human Development: The Catholic Church working to end poverty and injustice in America; We'll turn your dollars into hope for the poor of our nation."
The generous Catholics who respond to that well-phrased appeal probably think they are making a Good Samaritan gift to provide necessaries to the down-and-out. Most would probably be shocked to learn that the money donated to the Campaign for Human Development (CHD) does not go for charity but for radical Obama-style community organizing.
Over the last 10 years, CHD has given $7.3 million of Catholic-donated dollars to the Saul Alinsky-style group called ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). When in 1998 some Catholics complained that CHD grants were not used for Catholic charity but were actually funding groups opposed to church teachings, CHD changed its name to Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).
The name change did not redirect the flow of money. In 2007 alone, CCHD increased its support of ACORN, giving it 37 grants totaling $1,037,000.
During 2007 and 2008, ACORN and its affiliated organizations were aggressively registering what it claimed were 1.3 million poor people. ACORN focused on new registrations in the key toss-up states of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida.
You can listen on YouTube to clips from ACORN's national convention and decide for yourself how partisan it is.
CCHD knew how ACORN spent its money. CCHD's executive director, Ralph McCloud, admitted to Catholic News Service that "some of the funds that the Catholic Campaign contributed to ACORN in the past undoubtedly were used for voter registration drives."
Even though the pro-Obama political activity of ACORN had been widely reported, and employees of ACORN and affiliated organizations like Project Vote have been either indicted or convicted of submitting false voter registration forms in 14 states, in June 2008 CCHD approved grants of $1.13 million to 40 local ACORN affiliates for the cycle beginning July 1, 2008. Those grants were ratified by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at its June 2008 meeting.
The CCHD-ACORN relationship suddenly became too embarrassing to ignore, and CCHD announced it was suspending (not canceling) the 2008 grants. But the reason given for suspension was not ACORN's partisan political activity or registration frauds, it was because Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, had embezzled nearly $1 million from the organization and its affiliates back in 1999 and 2000.
CCHD also announced that it has formed a task force to ensure that church funds are spent according to the guidelines of the Bishops Conference's poverty-fighting program. Presumably, the previous millions of dollars given to ACORN were within the conference's guidelines.
Barack Obama knows the political value of ACORN. He gave $800,000 in campaign cash disguised as payments for "advance work" to an Alinsky front group called Citizen Services Inc.
Obama admits he got his start as a community organizer in Chicago, saying it was "the best education I ever had, better than anything I got at Harvard Law School." He tries to downplay his connection with ACORN, claiming he worked for churches, but he was trained by Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation and then spent years in the 1980s teaching the Alinsky method to others through several Alinsky offshoots such as Project Vote and Developing Communities Project in Chicago.
Saul Alinsky's son Lee David Alinsky felt compelled to remedy Obama's failure to give proper credit. In a letter to the Boston Globe in August after Obama's open-stadium rally in Denver, the younger Alinsky wrote: "Obama learned his lesson well. I am proud to see that my father's model for organizing is being applied successfully beyond local community organizing to affect the Democratic campaign in 2008. It is a fine tribute to Saul Alinsky as we approach his 100th birthday."
Saul Alinsky explained his community organizing tactics in his book "Rules for Radicals." His game plan was to divide the community into the Haves and the Have Nots, make the Have Nots believe they are unjustly treated by the Haves, build resentment against the American social and economic system, use church congregations to mobilize street agitators, and lobby government for higher taxes and big-spending welfare programs in order to confiscate the wealth and power of the Haves and turn it over to the Have Nots.
Alinsky dedicated his book to Lucifer, "the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom."
Another Alinsky quote seems remarkably prophetic: "Ego must be so all-pervading that the personality of the organizer is contagious, that it converts the people from despair to defiance, creating a mass ego."
- Mrs. Schlafly is the author of the new book The Supremacists: The Tyranny of Judges and How to Stop It (Spence Publishing Co).
By Jonah Goldberg
November 21, 2008
In an attempt to dial down expectations for his administration, President-elect Barack Obama’s supporters have dropped much of the “messiah” talk.
No more talk of him being The One (Oprah), or a Jedi Knight (George Lucas), or a “Lightworker” (the San Francisco Chronicle), or a “quantum leap in American consciousness” (Deepak Chopra). Instead we have more humble and circumspect conversation about the man. Now he’s merely Abraham Lincoln and FDR and Martin Luther King, combined.
It’s a step down from divine redeemer, but you have to start somewhere.
Stephen Bliss / Bernstein and Andriulli for Newsweek
Newsweek, Time, the Washington Post, 60 Minutes and, of course, The O Network (formerly known as MSNBC) have all run wild with this stuff. Depicting Obama as FDR or Lincoln has become a staple of the self-proclaimed “objective” media.
I was on Fox News the other night to throw some cold water on this Obama-as-Lincoln stuff. Alan Colmes of Hannity & Colmes chastised me, asking if we shouldn’t give Obama “a chance to actually spread his wings and fly a little bit” before disparaging him.
Fine. I actually agree with that. Conservatives should not denounce Obama’s performance before he’s had a chance to, you know, perform.
But, shouldn’t we also hold off on comparing the guy to FDR and Lincoln before he’s done anything?
Obama hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet, and it’s already an unfair right-wing attack to say that Obama isn’t on par with Lincoln and FDR. What’s next? Will it be slander to say Obama’s a carbon-based life form? Will the Secret Service investigate you if you’re overheard saying you think Obama’s merely “OK”?
While such sycophancy from the national press is lamentable, at this point it’s hardly news.
What I find fascinating, however, is not so much the Obama hagiography, but the burning desire for another FDR or Lincoln that underlies it.
According to the various Obama-as-Lincoln narratives, including those from the president-elect himself, Obama is a new Lincoln because he is a “uniter.” In several of his most famous speeches, Obama insinuates that he wants to bring the country together the way Honest Abe did. Newsweek and others tout his fondness for Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals, in which Goodwin argues that Lincoln displayed his political genius by inviting adversaries into his Cabinet.
There are real problems with this model; it didn’t work too well for Lincoln. Moreover, who looks at how Lincoln staffed his Cabinet as the defining feature of his presidency? Saying Obama is the next Lincoln because the two men share staffing styles is like saying George Bush is Thomas Jefferson because they both liked chicken soup. If I wear a pointy hat, can I call myself John Paul II?
Lincoln was Lincoln because he fought and won the Civil War and freed the slaves. News flash: That ain’t what America is like today — and thank God for it.
I think Lincoln was just about the greatest president in American history, but I sure don’t want to need another Lincoln. Six hundred thousand Americans died at the hands of other Americans during Lincoln’s presidency. Lincoln unified the country at gunpoint and curtailed civil liberties in a way that makes President Bush look like an ACLU zealot. The partisan success of the GOP in the aftermath of the war Obama thinks so highly of was forged in blood.
Likewise with FDR. Listening to liberals gush over a “new New Deal” and Obama’s call for us to emulate the “Greatest Generation,” you’d think they want another Great Depression and World War.
Indeed, liberals have long idolized the 1930s as a decade of great unity. It wasn’t. The 1930s was a miserable decade of poverty, domestic unrest, labor strife, violations of civil liberties and widespread fear. If liberals really loved peace, prosperity and national cohesion, they’d remember the 1920s or 1950s more fondly. And yet they don’t. Why? Because liberals didn’t get to impose their schemes and dreams on the country in those decades. Behind all the talk of unity and bipartisanship and shared sacrifice lies an uglier ambition: power. The audacity of hope behind all this Lincoln-FDR-Obama blather is the dream of riding roughshod over the opposition, of having their way, of total victory.
The Chinese curse and cliche “may you live in interesting times” is on point. Liberals (and a few conservatives as well, alas) seem desperate to live in interesting times. Not me.
You know what I hope? I hope Obama is another Coolidge or Eisenhower. But I’m not holding my breath.
— Jonah Goldberg is the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning and editor-at-large of National Review Online.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
November 20, 2008
Robert Novak recently sat down with Barbara Mutasow of the Washingtonian magazine for a deeply personal interview. This article was first published in the November 2008 issue of The Washingtonian magazine.
Whether you like him or hate him, Robert Novak's combination of insider dope, political pronouncements, and glowering TV presence have made him a Washington institution. So the announcement in July that he was suspending his newspaper column because of a brain tumor came as a jolt. What other journalist has been tearing up the town with so much relish for the past 51 years?
I spent some time with Novak five years ago for The Washingtonian, chronicling his journey from secular Jew to devout Catholic. Somewhat to my surprise, the scowling, sardonic columnist turned out to be a peach of a subject. He gave me plenty of time in spite of his killer schedule and seemed utterly candid. No subject was off limits.
Yet I couldn't shake the feeling that he was putting me on at times, making himself sound more misanthropic than he really was. I finally concluded that the pose -- Scrooge in a three-piece suit -- was manufactured to make him into a memorable TV personality, which it did. It also made him rich.
The last decade has dealt him some blows. Rowland Evans, his column-writing partner for 30 years -- whom he eulogized as a brother -- died in 2001. Novak's opposition to the war in Iraq left him alienated from onetime friends like Bill Kristol and William Rusher. On top of that came the Plame affair, in which he revealed the identity of CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson -- an episode he said cost him $160,000 in legal fees, spelled an end to his career at CNN, and subjected him and his family to threats.
Then, last summer, after hitting a pedestrian with his Corvette and suffering three seizures, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given six months to a year to live.
Knowing how ill he was, it was with some trepidation that I asked to talk with him, but he readily agreed. I found him sitting in the living room of his comfortable apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue not far from the Capitol, thinner and a little frail after brain surgery and daily doses of radiation and experimental drugs.
Admirers will be glad to hear that he has not mellowed. He is as pugnacious as ever, although he expressed frustration at not being able to pick up the phone and report the way he used to. Even so, he says he's planning a sequel to "The Prince of Darkness," his 2007 autobiography, and looking forward to the day when he can get back to work.
Q: You've said your Catholicism was helping you deal with your illness.
A: Well, nobody wants to die. I certainly don't. But all Christian faiths, and certainly Catholicism, hold that there's an afterlife, that we are not just dust to dust. And that's comforting, particularly now that I have an illness and there's very little chance I will recover. A priest who visited me told me I've been given a chance to prepare myself. So I began to think about my life and what I've done right and not done right and to prepare myself for the last days. I've found that reassuring.
Q: Yet you're going through this tremendously painful regimen. Given your diagnosis, is it worth it?
A: Look, it's not easy or pleasant, but it's worth it because I don't want to die. I'm very, very tired, so there's a great temptation to just give up. But that's not my nature.
Q: Despite your ups and downs and your illnesses -- this is your fourth cancer -- you've been pretty lucky most of your life. Your mother spoiled you rotten. Your wife, Geraldine, practically cuts your meat. Your colleagues seem not just willing but happy to perform the most menial tasks for you. How does one get to be treated so royally?
A: It starts if you're an only child. You're told you're wonderful, you can do no wrong. My mother always gave me the impression I was going to be something successful in the world. She didn't know what, and she certainly wasn't happy with the career path I took, but she never criticized me.
A person with a mother like that ends up with a great deal of confidence, which is a good thing to have if you're going to be the kind of journalist I was. If you're just going to report on car wrecks and interview the victims, you don't need much confidence. But if you're going to make proclamations on the state of the world, it helps to have confidence -- even if that confidence is unwarranted.
Q: All your life you've been a workaholic whose only outside interest, you've said, was sports. Looking back, would you do anything differently?
A: I don't think so. I have had so much fun in my life. I do like a few other things. I have season tickets to the Washington National Opera. I have season tickets to the Shakespeare Theatre. I love to read history. I've been writing a novel in my head for years. It takes place during the Thirty Years' War -- I'm kind of a nut on the Thirty Years' War. I love poetry. I love T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound.
So I think I'd do it about the same way except for my children. I think I paid too little attention to my two children when they were young. I'm very lucky -- they're both wonderful. In this crisis they've just been terrific.
Q: When you covered Capitol Hill in the 1950s, you were a quasi-regular at the after-hours soirees Senator Everett Dirksen used to hold in his office. Can you imagine a reporter being included in a gathering like that today?
A: No. The relationship between the press and politicians was far different. When Trent Lott read about Dirksen in my autobiography, he was flabbergasted. I am not even 100 percent sure he believed me, he was so astounded that a Senate Republican leader would invite a reporter to a closed gathering like that.
Q: The atmosphere in politics today is so bitterly partisan. What do you ascribe that to?
A: I don't agree that partisanship is more bitter now. In the 19th century, the overriding issue was slavery, and there was no more partisan issue than slavery. Preston Brooks, a proslavery Democratic congressman from South Carolina, walked onto the Senate floor and beat Charles Sumner, the antislavery leader of the radical Republicans, almost to death with the metal end of his cane. Now, that was partisan.
During my first year in Washington when I was covering the Senate for the AP, Bob Kerr, a Democrat from Oklahoma, called Indiana Republican Homer Capehart a "rancid tub of ignorance." So it's no more partisan now -- maybe less colorful. It may feel more partisan because it's so much more transparent. There's more TV, and the whole process is more open to the public.
Q: How do you assess the state of the Republican Party?
A: In 1957, when I came here, it was all but dead and had been dying for a long time. The Republicans were a permanent minority in Congress. They had never managed to put together an effective response to Roosevelt or his handling of the Depression.
The Republican Party was revived unexpectedly by somebody who was not even a Republican activist -- William F. Buckley Jr. Suddenly you had members of Congress in both chambers taking positions, trying to put together programs of action.
The party found its voice in Barry Goldwater -- a very ineffective voice, in my opinion. I thought he was limited as a political leader, but he was able to attract millions of people, and it changed the Republican Party.
Then came Ronald Reagan, and suddenly you had a response to Big Government and to liberals and a very effective politician leading it. Reagan took the torch from Goldwater, but nobody took the torch from Reagan.
So the Republican Party in the last few years looks very much like the party I encountered here in 1957. It has no responses, it doesn't have programs, and it's quite eager to just get by. Being a congressman in the minority is not all that bad if you are interested in a warm bed and a good salary.
Q: Do you see that changing?
A: I don't know when they are going to work their way out of this crisis, but I'm sure they will. When you get two Republicans together, the first thing they say is "Who's our future leader?" The answer is nobody knows.
The most interesting Republicans right now are a few young House members. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is the best of them. Also Jeff Flake of Arizona and Jeb Hensarling of Texas. They are known in the House as right-wingers. I would describe them as reformers. They think there's been too much corruption and waste. They are supply-siders. They are very upset with earmarks and very, very upset with the passive leadership we have today. I told them the current leadership reminds me of the get-along, go-along days I found when I got here, with House minority leader Bob Michel playing golf with House majority leader Tip O'Neill.
Q: You've had some unparalleled sources. How does one go about cultivating them?
A: What I'm going to say may come as a shock, because I'm not a terribly likable person, but you gotta get a source to like you. There's very little that I or any other journalist can really do for a politician. A favorable column is not all that much, so there's not much payback. It's gotta be "I want to help Novak because I like him." That may sound naive, but it's true.
Senator Pat Moynihan was one of my great sources. I don't believe he said, "Boy, if Novak writes this column, I'm going to really be in much better shape." He thought I was an interesting guy and had interesting ideas, and he liked to talk about things with me.
Q: You mention the names of a lot of sources in "The Prince of Darkness," which is practically a who's who of everybody in government or politics over the past 50 years. Who were the most skillful leakers, the ones who really knew how to give good leak?
A: The word "leaker" has an ignominious ring. It connotes giving you something you shouldn't have. I think I should have everything. So there are no leaks -- there are sources.
When I'm feeling well, a source I talk to every day is Rick Hohlt. He is a lobbyist and fundraiser for Republican causes who was on Senator Richard Lugar's staff years ago and is still close to him. He is very smart, and he knows more about what's going on in Washington than anyone else. Unfortunately, he's very discreet and doesn't tell me everything. But every time I talk to him I learn something.
Q: Who else?
A: Richard Perle -- he is a wonderful source. Probably the best source I ever had was a guy named John Carbaugh. He was a legislative assistant to Senator Jesse Helms for years and later became an international financial consultant; he's dead now. He was an ideal source. Most sources, even the best, deal orally. They tell you something, give you tips, to see if you can check them out -- which you have to do. But John would come into my office, documents in hand. He had incredible contacts, and occasionally he gave me highly classified documents. Where the hell he got them I don't know.
Sources like to be taken out to breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Will they give you the queen's jewels for a lunch at Sans Souci -- which no longer exists -- or its successor? No, a lunch isn't that important. But it's a way of establishing intimacy.
I was just a Midwestern country boy when I came here. Rowly (Evans) was an elite Philadelphian. I didn't realize how much a lunch was part of the whole source/reporter equation. Rowly learned that from Joseph and Stewart Alsop. If Rowly didn't have a meal with a source, it was a bad day. Quite often he would have two sources for the same meal, usually breakfast.
Q: Who were the most dazzling politicians you watched over the past 50 years?
A: It almost sounds like a cliche, but John F. Kennedy was a dazzling politician because he had a dazzling personality. Personality is a huge thing in politics.
Q: How would you rate George Bush's presidency?
A: Poor. I have said that the presidency is a leadership role; it's not an administrative job. You can't run the country -- it's too complicated. A leader's role is to lead this diverse, cranky, difficult country and get the people moving in the same direction. George Bush has totally failed at that.
While I believe Roosevelt was overall a terrible president and prolonged the Depression by his policies, he was an excellent leader. People were down on the country, down on themselves, down on the government, and he picked them up.
Reagan was a great leader. I think Kennedy was terribly overrated, but he was a good leader. I don't think George Bush even comprehends the demands of leadership. I went to see him when he was governor of Texas. I should have gotten a warning at the time. He expressed such contempt for Washington. If I were smarter, I would have seen huge trouble ahead from somebody who has that many negative feelings about the job.
The only president in my time I give a passing grade to is Reagan. I thought Nixon was the worst -- a vicious little man. He never should have been president. The one I have the hardest time giving a grade to is Clinton. Did he have talent? Absolutely -- he was a very accomplished man. But what did he do? I don't think he accomplished anything. I think he was very good on the Cold War. But he seemed to be a man with limited horizons and ambitions.
Q: In your memoir, you describe an early meeting in the Oval Office with Reagan in which he quoted a couple of obscure 19th-century British free-trade advocates and some little-known modern Austrian economists. How underrated intellectually do you think Reagan was?
A: He was extremely underrated, particularly by the press. The press was very derisive. They were derisive of Eisenhower, too -- they thought he was just another Army officer -- but the attacks on Reagan were harsher. He was portrayed as stupid, uneducated, out of his element. I think he was very well educated and understood a lot of things. He was also very flexible in his policies -- too flexible for my taste.
Q: How do you feel about Dick Cheney?
A: I think he's the most forceful, effective vice president in history.
I like some of the things he's done. I think he was instrumental in getting the tax cuts through, which I approve of. I'm at odds with his aggressive military policy, but he's put a new dimension on the vice presidency that I don't think will be continued and maybe shouldn't be continued.
Q: You've seen a lot of secretaries of state. Who were the best?
A: It's a very difficult job. You have to balance two constituencies -- the presidency and the Foreign Service. Most don't succeed very well in that. I think Dean Rusk, for example, was totally the president's man. Colin Powell leaned heavily the other way, maybe too much, trying to protect the Foreign Service. As for making a great mark on history, I don't think any of them cut a major swath.
The most effective in terms of interpersonal relations was Lawrence Eagleburger. He was not in the job for long, but he was quite good. Although I often criticized him, I thought George Shultz overall was an effective secretary of state. I think the least effective of all in my time was Al Haig, who never figured out what he was doing. He was a great source of Rowly's and a pretty good source of mine, so that's not the sine qua non when it comes to evaluating them.
I arrived in time to see the end of John Foster Dulles' term as secretary of State. He was very powerful and decisive -- he knew where he was going and had a world plan. Of all those I covered, he may have been the most effective. But he had a very bad press, which always means being treated badly by history.
Q: What about White House chiefs of staff?
A: I think the current chief of staff, Josh Bolten, is quite good in what seems to be a disastrous administration. He is very efficient -- he keeps the tumult down to a minimum.
Q: Who do you think were the best legislators?
A: Legislators are funny. One of the best-equipped legislators was Wilbur Mills, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. He really knew trade, taxes -- he really knew the field. He was very smart and came across as a shrewd bargainer. But he never got anything done.
A more recent chair of the Ways and Means committee was Bill Thomas, who was considered by his colleagues to be the smartest guy in town. I think Bill considered himself the smartest guy in the world. But he was very meager in terms of accomplishments. It's hard to get things passed.
If you go by accomplishments, the best was Lyndon Johnson. There's not even a close second in terms of getting bills passed. The reason: He was a trader, and he never took no for an answer. He could bargain into the night.
I am always amused when I watch Harry Reid come out on television and bemoan the fact that he had devised a unanimous-consent agreement but the evil Republicans violated it, so he couldn't get a unanimous-consent agreement. I compare that with Johnson, who never gave up. Sometimes when there was an impasse, I'd be sitting in the press section and see him retreat to the cloakroom. A little later, he'd come back with a couple of senators and they'd have an agreement. He was unique.
Q: What about Newt Gingrich?
A: I thought he was a failure as speaker and a great success as a political manager in getting a Republican majority in the House. It's amazing to see how much influence he still has and how popular he is in the Republican Party.
Q: What changes have you seen in Washington as a place to live?
A: It's a totally different town than it used to be. It is much less dingy. It's got slick restaurants. But the big difference between 2008 and 1957 is money. Washington is much more like New York in being a money town. If you wanted to make $150,000 a year out of law school back then, you didn't go to Washington, but you do now. The giant law-and-lobbying firms have markedly changed the climate.
If a retired congressman isn't making 300 grand a year out of Congress, his wife is going to complain. I had a conversation with a congressman who left Congress under a cloud. I asked him how he's doing. He said, "Six figures."
Q: You've described yourself as a hero worshiper in a field that doesn't have many heroes. Who were your heroes?
A: To be a hero -- my hero -- the person has to be in the process of risking his life or his livelihood or his way of life for a principle. That's hard to find in the political world. I've talked about the great Czech distance runner Emil Zapotek, the greatest distance runner of all time, who ended up working in a uranium mine because he supported the 1968 uprising. He was a great hero of mine -- an athlete who changed his whole life for principle.
I admire a lot of people on the Hill, but are they heroes? I wouldn't say so.
I think about Pat Moynihan, who I liked and admired. He was very smart, a very nice man, and wrote all his books himself in longhand. But whenever there was a choice between political expedience and principle, he'd choose political expediency. I don't criticize him for it; he was a politician.
Q: You've had a chance to look back on your life and think about what you've done that was good and what was bad. What stands out?
A: Looking back, I tried to find out what the politicians were up to, which is a difficult job. I find that politicians as a class are up to no good. Sometimes they accidentally do the right thing. When I started out, I didn't have any agenda or tablet of principles at all. But in the course of writing about things and getting exclusive information, I might have helped certain causes. I might have helped the tax-cutting cause, which I'm very much in favor of. That takes away from my mantra that I'm just a simple reporter reporting the facts, doesn't it?
When we started the column, Rowly and I were neutral on abortion, maybe leaning toward pro-choice. I began to read, think about it, and by the time I embraced Catholicism, I was adamantly against abortion. I'm happy that I moved in that direction.
Rowly once gave me a very elegant description of what it was we were doing. He said we were trying to intercept the lines of communication. Looking back on my life, I regret I was so determined to do that. I ended up writing a lot of political trivia, which really made my reputation. I think when people stop me now and say they miss my column, what they're talking about is the behind-the-scenes trivia -- the kind of thing that made me acceptable to people who disagreed with me. But I think I would have been better off to write about tax cuts and abortion and less about inside politics.
Q: Only those issues or others?
A: I was very negative about the invasion of Iraq. That's another subject I should have written more about, explained more. I thought the war was unjustified. But my stand led to a Novak-hates-his-country piece in the National Review, which caused me a lot of grief and cut me off at the White House. I should have explained more about why I took the position I did. I probably should have written more about foreign policy in general. If I told you I accomplished some huge feat, it wouldn't be true. But I'm not ashamed of what I've written. I stand by it.
Q: Let's talk about the Valerie Plame affair, which caused you so much grief. If you had it to do over again, would you reveal who she was?
A: If you read my book, you find a certain ambivalence there. Journalistically, I thought it was an important story because it explained why the CIA would send Joe Wilson -- a former Clinton White House aide with no track record in intelligence and no experience in Niger -- on a fact-finding mission to Africa. From a personal point of view, I said in the book I probably should have ignored what I'd been told about Mrs. Wilson.
Now I'm much less ambivalent. I'd go full speed ahead because of the hateful and beastly way in which my left-wing critics in the press and Congress tried to make a political affair out of it and tried to ruin me. My response now is this: The hell with you. They didn't ruin me. I have my faith, my family, and a good life. A lot of people love me -- or like me. So they failed. I would do the same thing over again because I don't think I hurt Valerie Plame whatsoever.
Q: You saw up close what it's like to be the subject of so many news stories. Has this changed the way you view the journalistic profession?
A: I thought the journalistic community was terrible to me -- even members of the Gridiron Club, which is supposed to be a band of brothers and sisters. I thought one of the worst columns written on the Plame affair was by William Safire. He wrote a stupid column saying I should reveal the name of my source. He wanted to get his colleague at The New York Times, Judy Miller, off the hook with the prosecutors. He didn't know, as I knew, that my source, Richard Armitage, had long before identified himself to the FBI and the Justice Department. But my attorneys advised me to keep silent about the whole affair.
Q: Having thrown a lot of darts throughout your career and then being on the receiving end, did you ever stop to think how your columns might have made other people feel?
A: No. (Laughs.) That's not my nature.
Q: What, if anything, has your illness taught you about friendship?
A: Surprisingly, I found that solicitous care for me crossed party lines. It has nothing to do with ideology, politics, or philosophy. There are really good friends who are quick to offer help, ask to come over and see me. Some people I thought were friends have never gotten in touch with me.
People react differently. Donnie Graham wrote me a nice letter. He said this was the first time since he was 15 that the Evans and Novak column was not in the Post. I thought that was very nice of him.
Q: What's the most helpful thing someone can say to a person who's gravely ill?
A: There's not much you can say. A lot of people say: "You're a tough guy and a fighter. You're gonna beat this." Well, I don't know if I will beat it. Being tough and a fighter have nothing to do with it. I guess the most helpful thing they can say, if they're a man or woman of faith, is to tell me they're praying for me.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Of all the reasons why America voted the way it did on November 4, one factor stands out: young people and first-time voters turned out and voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.
Richard Rorty (1931-2007) taught philosophy at Wellesley, Princeton, Virginia and Stanford.
MSNBC's exit polling, which is consistent with other exit polling, showed that voters aged 18-29, who made up nearly one in five voters -- or about 25 million ballots -- went for Obama by more than two to one: 66 to 32 percent. Those voters alone well exceeded Obama's overall popular vote advantage, which was roughly eight million. Likewise, 11 percent of voters were first-time voters, and they went for Obama at an even higher rate: 69 to 30 percent. Single (unmarried) voters, which constituted one in three voters, went for Obama 65 to 33 percent.
While these categories are not monolithic, and overlap, they capture the current generation of college students, who clearly went bonkers for Barack Obama. Why? What are they learning -- and not learning?
These youth live and learn on college campuses where "diversity" and "tolerance" and "multiculturalism" -- bogus buzzwords that apply only to ethnic, gender, and sexual diversity, not genuine diversity of ideas -- reign supreme. Racial diversity is at the crux of this academic trinity, the source and summit of the faith. It is the molten, golden calf, where much of the intelligentsia and their disciples gather to worship. Political correctness has supplanted traditional religion.
Thus, when the university community was presented with Barack Obama, a charismatic, impressive, seemingly excellent Democratic presidential candidate -- who happened to be African-American -- the reaction was nearly reverential, bordering on idolatry. The good senator's bracing radical associations -- enough to deny any other American a security clearance -- and which were not coincidental to a man ranked the most leftist member of the most leftist Senate in U.S. history, didn't matter to the academic world. Quite the contrary, those who dared to point out these associations -- FoxNews, talk-radio, the McCain-Palin ticket -- were deemed loathsome Neanderthals deserving of being burned in effigy from the nearest dorm.
That brings me to another factor in this milieu: McCain-Palin. Neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin resonated with this gang. Given the prevailing orthodoxy in the academic asylum, John McCain's moving personal narrative of military valor had little impact on the college crowd. That McCain was tortured by communists for six years didn't matter much to these people -- the same individuals who endeavor to boot ROTC from their campuses. And as for Sarah Palin, she represented the worst of pariahs at the faculty club: an evangelical so consistently, comically pro-life that she chose to do what 90 percent of women don't do when they're informed of a prenatally diagnosed Down syndrome child -- she delivered the baby. The feminine Palin is seen as an ideological ogre -- an eagerly acceptable target for a torrent of bigotry by the open-minded professoriate and its acolytes.
This is the atmosphere in which these young people are being educated. That's what they're learning. Equally crucial to this election, however, is what college students are not learning.
As I noted earlier, Americans don't care about Barack Obama's radical past, including his links to the likes of Bill Ayers, Frank Marshall Davis, and Saul Alinsky, because of the failure of our educational system to teach the lessons of the Cold War and horrors of communism. This is especially true of higher education, where the leftist worldview is so extreme and so upside down that America's professors share a hearty contempt not for communism but for anti-communism.
Think about this: The current generation of college students was born after the fall of the Berlin Wall. These modern products of elite education are not Reagan babies. They were not inspired by the Westminster Address of June 1982, by the Evil Empire speech of March 1983, by Reagan meeting with Pope John Paul II to topple communism in Eastern Europe throughout the 1980s, or by Reagan in front of the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, demanding that Mikhail Gorbachev tear down that cement tombstone to human freedom. No, today's freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, who voted for the first time on November 4, 2008, were born after these historic events. They've received their education on communism from their professors, which means they've received either no education at all on the unparalleled slaughter formally known as Marxism-Leninism, or, to the contrary, they've heard only dark, dire lectures about the malevolence of anti-communism -- of McCarthyism.
A deliciously fitting -- albeit depressing -- symbol of this came at the very moment that Obama's coronation was announced by the networks. A FoxNews camera-crew was outside the White House, where a contingent of hysterical students from George Washington University hopped up and down in sheer ecstasy. This was a most appropriate image, in light of the fact that it was such voters who delivered the presidency to Obama. I was struck, however, by the conspicuous presence of a beaming student wearing a red t-shirt with a giant Soviet hammer and sickle. No doubt, the young revolutionary was thrilling at the spectacle, awe-struck amid this sea of what his mentor, Vladimir Lenin, considered "useful idiots" -- i.e., naïve liberals incapable of realizing when they are supporting the communists' intentions.
Ironically, the dupes of, say, the 1950s, would have recognized the young Bolshevik for who he was, but I seriously doubt that the typical student in that crowd had any idea of the true loyalties of their comrade, or sensed that they were celebrating arm-in-arm with a Marxist: Hammer-and-sickle? What's that?
What's more, I would bet $100 that if some disgruntled conservative within the throng yelled out, "Hey, that guy is a communist!" one of the well-trained university brethren would have quickly denounced the conservative -- the anti-communist -- as the real villain in the mix. They have been carefully trained to view Joe McCarthy as more insidious than Joe Stalin.
This is an abbreviated way of explaining why Barack Obama's communist connections didn't matter in this election, and how the Ivory Tower paved the road to victory. We won the Cold War but seem to have lost the long-term, crucial ideological struggle at home. We lost not on the battlefield but in the classroom. On November 4, it finally came back to bite us, and at a time (economically and politically) that couldn't be worse.
Finally, I should add that I've received emails in the last couple of weeks from distraught conservative parents saddened to learn that their college-student children voted for Obama. They shouldn't be surprised; sadly, these parents have unwittingly paid for precisely this. In the vast majority of the nation's colleges, this is what their children are learning at a cost of the parents' lifetime savings. I'm reminded of the statement from the late atheist philosopher Richard Rorty, who said that the job of professors like him was "to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own" and "escape the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents."
This has been the personal mission of many professors for decades now -- in flagrant violation of the scandalously fraudulent mission statements of the colleges where they teach. They've been enormously successful. The left's gradual takeover of academia is complete -- the Long March a stunning success. Behold: the presidency of the United States of America.
The fruits of the left's dogged work were on display on November 4, 2008. And now, alas, to paraphrase the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, America's chickens have come home to roost.
- Paul Kengor is author of God and George W. Bush (HarperCollins, 2004), professor of political science, and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
By Richard John Neuhaus
Friday, November 14, 2008, 8:45 AM
Many who do not embrace the Christian faith nonetheless have a high appreciation of the importance of Christianity to the cultural and social order. Theirs is an instrumental view of religion. Edward Gibbon caught the idea nicely, and in his usual caustic manner, when describing the religious cults of the Roman Empire. He says the common people viewed them as true, the philosophers viewed them as false, and the rulers viewed them as useful. Today’s political class in America has in recent decades undergone a conversion, so to speak, to the usefulness of religion.
Doubting Thomas, painting by Caravaggio (1602-03), oil on canvas. Sanssouci, Potsdam
At the level of electoral politics, that conversion moved a large part of the base of the Republican party from the country club to the churches beginning in the 1980s, and more recently the Democrats have been playing catch-up with energetic programs of “religious outreach.” Not that it seemed to have helped Senator Obama very much. Church-going voters, both Protestant and Catholic, went with strong majorities for John McCain. What did come as a surprise, although it should not have, is that no more than a third of Catholics are church-going Catholics. In other words, only a minority of Catholics is within the orbit of the Church’s teaching and moral influence.
Nonetheless, in the limited sphere of canvassing for votes, we have come a long way from the situation described in my 1984 book The Naked Public Square. It is understandable that citizens who are religious—which for public purposes in America means mainly Christian—are gratified to be taken seriously by the movers and shakers of the political order, which is frequently thought to be “the real world.” This does not mean that Christian truth claims are taken seriously, but Christianity, like the popular cults of the Roman Empire, is recognized as being useful.
More thoughtful Christians cannot help but view this circumstance with deep ambivalence. Christianity entered history as a revolutionary philosophy, a radically different understanding of cosmic reality, of the dignity of the human person, and a new proposal of nothing less than the story of the world centered in the life, death, resurrection, and promised coming again of the one who is both true God and true man, Jesus Christ. It is a very considerable demotion for Christianity to be treated as a useful appendage to the political competitions of the earthly city that is the Babylon of our exile. St. Augustine’s City of God promised ever so much more than that.
Any time is the right time for Christians to think anew about the perennial question of Christ and culture. Christ in the phrase Christ and culture always means Christ and his Church. Christ and the Church constitute a distinct society within the surrounding culture that is Babylon. At least that is the depiction in the New Testament and the Great Tradition of Christian teaching. In this community, the promised not yet keeps breaking into the now. The surrounding Babylon assumes many different cultural forms that may be viewed as different cultures. To look at the larger picture of the relationship between Christ and culture is, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, a dizzying experience.
The cultural world of most of us is chiefly Europe and the Americas. We do well to keep in mind, however, that the majority of Christians, and the most expansive growth of the Christian movement, is today in the Global South, led by Catholics and those who are described as evangelicals and Pentecostals, although many indigenous movements do not fit easily into our familiar categories. Only God knows what world Christianity will look like a hundred years from now, which is just as well.
Any discussion of Christ and culture immediately brings to mind H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic book of that title. Recall his typology of the ways in which the relation between Christ and culture, meaning Christianity and culture, has been understood over the course of history. Niebuhr suggests that there are essentially five ways: Christ against culture, the Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and culture in paradox, and Christ transforming culture. While Niebuhr’s typology is suggestive and therefore useful, it is also seriously misleading on several scores. I confess that, after some years, I stopped using it in classroom teaching when I found that I was spending more time in arguing with Niebuhr than in letting him guide the discussion.
Nevertheless, Niebuhr is certainly right that the questions of Christ and culture have been constant in Christian history from the apostolic era to the present, and will be until our Lord’s promised return in glory. Barrels of ink have been spilt in trying to define what is meant by culture, and I do not presume to have anything like the final word on the subject. By culture I mean the historical ambiance, the social context of ideas and habits within which the Church proclaims and lives the gospel of Christ. This includes the dominant moral assumptions, the widely held aspirations, and the beliefs and behaviors that characterize economic, political, religious, and educational life, along with the institutions that reflect and support those habits, beliefs, and behaviors. Admittedly, that is an awful lot to stuff into the category of culture. But then, culture is an awful lot. One might go so far as to say that culture is to us what water is to fish: It is more assumed than analyzed.
There is something that we call American culture. Although the phrase is hotly contested, we speak of “the American way of life.” People who think there is no such thing as American culture usually learn they are wrong by the simple expedient of living for a time in a country with a different culture. In a society so vast and various as America, there are many subcultures and even countercultures. Indeed, the proponents of unbounded pluralism would persuade us that there is no longer an American culture; that what was American culture has been displaced by a maddening mix of subcultures and each of us lives in the subculture of his choice. This view is prominent among those who feel marginalized, constrained, or oppressed by the prevalent patterns of life in America, and they often tend to think that the demise of an American culture is a very good thing.
People who have a more comprehensive appreciation of world history, however, along with those who have the experience of living in other and very different societies, know that there is such a thing as American culture. Precisely in its being a capacious and hospitable culture with a marked respect for pluralism, it is American culture. Although it includes many non-Europeans, American culture is in the main an extension and reconfiguration of European culture, which is to say it is part of the culture of the West. And today it is, for all its confusions and contradictions, the strongest and most vibrant part of the cultural tradition of the West.
The challenge of Islam in its militant form of Jihadism powerfully reinforces our awareness that we are part of the West and, however ambiguously, the Christian West. As atheism in our culture is a distinctly Christian atheism, so the critique of our culture is a distinctly Christian critique. We live in an ambiguously Christian Babylon.
Gibbon’s jibes notwithstanding, Christians do want to be useful in their Babylonian captivity. They follow the counsel of the prophet Jeremiah who urged the children of Israel to seek the peace of the city of their exile, for in its peace is also their peace. The great danger, then and now, is that, in being useful to the city of their exile, they forget the New Jerusalem, the city of their destination. It really is not terribly gratifying to be a “religious vote” eagerly sought by the partisan factions of Babylon when we remember that he called us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
This awareness that Christians are different, and different in ways that make a very big difference, will, I expect sharply increase in the months and years ahead. For all of President-elect Obama’s wafting language about bringing us together, healing divisions, and so on and so on, if he seriously intends to follow through on his extremist abortion views, we are headed for the intensification of an American version of the Kulturkampf that Bismarck came to rue. The focus is on FOCA, the Freedom of Choice Act, that Obama says he wants to sign on his first day in office. This act would eliminate the very modest restraints and regulations established by states, provide government funding for abortions, and in its present form, require religiously sponsored hospitals and clinics to perpetrate abortions or go out of business.
The aggressor in the opening phases of this Kulturkampf is the Obama administration. The initial response to the aggression was evident in the meeting of Catholic bishops this week in Baltimore. There were refreshingly bold statements by bishops, and by Francis Cardinal George, president of the conference, on the imperative to protect the integrity of the Church’s teaching and to employ every legitimate means to resist the further advance of what John Paul the Great taught us to understand as the culture of death. Some bishops even invoked the venerable tradition of martyrdom, sounding very much like the successors to the apostles that they are.
The Christ against culture model does not come naturally to Catholics. The Church is much more disposed toward conversion, providing moral guidance, and the transformation of culture. The Christ against culture model is never chosen, but sometimes there is no choice. Pushed to the wall by the Obama aggression, it seems evident that most of the Catholic bishops are, in the words of Paul to Timothy, prepared to “fight the good fight.”
In this contest of coming months and years, it seems certain that cooperation between Catholics and evangelical Protestants will be greatly strengthened. And their efforts will enlist the support of many other Americans who are only now awakening to the fact that the unlimited abortion license imposed by Roe v. Wade and its proposed expansion by its hardcore supporters is indeed unlimited. If President-elect Obama does what he says he wants to do, this champion of national unity will preside over one of the most divisive periods in American history.
Richard John Neuhaus is editor in chief of First Things.
November 19, 2008
NEW YORK - AUGUST 27: Dustin Pedroia #15 of the Boston Red Sox hits an eigth inning grand slam against the New York Yankees on August 27, 2008 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. It was announced November 18, 2008 that Pedroia won the American League MVP Award. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Dustin Pedroia, MVP.
Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? It's sort of like the first time you heard "Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger" or "Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei."
Dustin Pedroia is the Most Valuable Player of the American League. This is simply one of the amazing sports stories of our time.
He is a miracle. He is a hardball mutant. He is the most unlikely man to win this award in the history of major league baseball.
Think about all the great Red Sox players who never won the award. Manny Ramírez was never MVP. Neither was Carlton Fisk. Nor Wade Boggs.
Fisk and Boggs are in the Hall of Fame and Manny is going to Cooperstown. None of them won an MVP.
Pedro Martínez? Bobby Doerr? MVPs?
Here's how hard it can be to win this thing: Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in 1942 and in 1947. And he didn't win the MVP either year.
In 1941, Ted hit .406.
"I thought that was pretty good," Ted humbly remembered in 1999.
Pretty good. But not MVP-worthy. The 1941 MVP trophy went to Joltin' Joe DiMaggio.
Maybe if Ted had done something really impressive, like hit .420 . . . Maybe if Ted perhaps had the skill set of . . . Dustin Pedroia.
The mind reels.
Things fell perfectly for Pedroia in 2008. He led the American League in hits (213), runs (118), and doubles (54). He won a Gold Glove. He stole 20 bases. He wore out pitchers. He got on base and didn't strike out, and he did it for a playoff team. In a year in which there was no monster RBI man in the league, Pedroia won the MVP fairly easily. And no matter what happens, he always will have "MVP" on his résumé.
Pedroia gets all the credit. He did this with his work in the batter's box, his work on the basepaths, and his work around second base. He did it with his clubhouse presence. Pedroia somehow manages to be a dominant figure in the locker room, even though he is shorter than most of the batboys and several pieces of clubhouse furniture.
But a few words must be said about Theo Epstein and Sox scouting director Jason McLeod. These men believed in Pedroia when no one else believed. They are the ones who drafted him in the second round in 2004. And Theo is the one who let go of Mark Loretta after the 2006 season and told Terry Francona that Pedroia would be the Red Sox second baseman in 2007.
BOSTON - JULY 12: Dustin Pedroia #15 of the Boston Red Sox fields the ball and sends it to first for the out in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles on July 12, 2008 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. It was announced November 18, 2008 that Pedroia won the American League MVP Award. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
It was a bold move. Pedroia was called up in September 2006 and looked awful. He'd ballooned to 193 pounds - way too much for his ridiculous 5-foot-7-inch frame (don't buy the 5-9 myth), he couldn't cover any ground, and he hit .191 in his small sample.
There were plenty of reasons to dismiss him, and most people did. I know I did. Pedroia came to 2007 spring training in great shape, but still had a dismal April. Reviews were fairly unanimous: The kid can't play. Nice college player. Nice minor league player. But that's it.
Epstein and McLeod never wavered. They knew. They knew Pedroia looked hideous at times. They knew everybody thought his swing was too big. They knew folks who saw Pedroia just once usually quit on the kid.
But they knew it was worth sticking with him. They knew Pedroia had an uncanny ability to barrel up just about every pitch he swung at. They knew he hit every ball on the screws - in batting practice and in games. They knew Pedroia worked the count mercilessly, and rarely swung and missed. They knew he was a doubles machine. And they knew he was a cocky kid with a lot of Pete Rose in him.
By the middle of 2007, everybody knew. Pedroia was on his way to winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Then he hit that statement-making home run at the beginning of the World Series sweep against the Colorado Rockies. At Coors Field, the clubhouse guy wouldn't let Pedroia into the locker room.
And now the little big man has an American League MVP trophy - just like Jimmie Foxx, Ted, Jackie Jensen, Yaz, Freddie Lynn, Jim Rice, Roger Clemens, and Mo Vaughn.
Pedroia did it by hitting .326 - same as Yaz in '67. He made himself the first second baseman to win the AL MVP since Nellie Fox of the Chicago White Sox in 1959. Guru Gammons points out that, in August, Pedroia had more extra-base hits than Ramírez.
Pedroia is no Manny Ramírez. But he's MVP of the American League. Just Dustin being Dustin.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
November 18, 2008
Thirty years ago today more than 900 followers of Jim Jones committed "revolutionary suicide" by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid.
"I just want to say something to everyone that I see that is standing around and are crying. This is nothing to cry about. This is something we should all rejoice about. We can be happy about this. They always told us that we should cry when you're coming into this world, but when we're leaving and we're leaving it peaceful ... I tell you, you should be happy about this. I was just thinking about Jim Jones. He just has suffered and suffered and suffered. He is the only god and he don't even have a chance to enjoy his death here. (clapping and voices in background)... I wanted to say one more thing. This is one thing I want to say. That you that've gone and there's many more here. He's still--the way, that's not all of us, that's not all yet. There's just a few that have died. A chance to get ... to the one that they could tell ... their lies to. So and I say I'm looking at so many people crying, I wish you would not cry, and just thank Father, just thank him. I tell you about ... (clapping and shouting) ... I've been here, uh, one year and nine months and I never felt better in my life. Not in San Francisco, but until I came to Jonestown. I enjoy this life. I had a beautiful life. I don't see nothing that I should be crying about. We should be happy. At least I am. Let's all be the same."
This comes from an unidentified woman on the FBI death recording from Jonestown, Guyana. Within minutes, she would be dead. For anyone familiar with the National Socialists' "night of the long knives" or the Soviet Socialists' show trials, replete as they were with a socialist dictator's victims professing their love and allegiance for that dictator in the moment of death, the pathetic hosannas to Jim Jones by the people of Peoples Temple plays as a disturbing socialist deja vu.
On November 17, 1978, Jim Jones was a hero to American leftists. On November 18, 1978, Jones orchestrated the killings of 918 people and strangely morphed in the eyes of American leftists into an evangelical Christian fanatic. An unfortunately well-worn narrative, playing out contemporaneously in Pol Pot's Cambodia, of socialist dreams ending in ghoulish nightmares, then, conveniently shifted to one about the dangers of organized religion. But as The Nation magazine reported at the time, "The temple was as much a left-wing political crusade as a church. In the course of the 1970s, its social program grew steadily more disaffiliated from what Jim Jones came to regard as 'Fascist America' and drifted rapidly toward outspoken Communist sympathies." So much so that the last will and testament of the Peoples Temple, and its individual members who left notes, bequeathed millions of dollars in assets to the Soviet Union. As Jones expressed to a Soviet diplomat upon upon his visit to Jonestown the month before the smiling suicides took place, "For many years, we have let our sympathies be quite publicly known, that the United States government was not our mother, but that the Soviet Union was our spiritual motherland."
Jonestown, November 18, 1978
Jim Jones was an evangelical communist who became a minister to infiltrate the church with the gospel according to Marx and Lenin. He was an atheist missionary bringing his message of socialist redemption to the Christian heathen. "I decided, how can I demonstrate my Marxism?," remembered Jones of his days in 1950s Indiana. "The thought was, infiltrate the church." So in the forms of Pentecostal ritual, Jones smuggled socialism into the minds of true believers--who gradually became true believers of a different sort. Unless one counts his drug-induced bouts with self-messianism, Jones didn't believe in God. Get it--a Peoples Temple. He shocked his parishioners, many of whom certainly did believe in God, by dramatically tossing the Bible onto the ground during a sermon. "Nobody's going to come out of the sky!," an excited Jones had once informed his flock. "There's no heaven up there! We'll have to have heaven down here!" Like so many efforts to usher in the millenium before it, Jones's Guyanese road to heaven on earth detoured to a hotter afterlife destination.
The horrific scene in a Guyanese jungle clearing could have been avoided. Thousands of miles north, for years leading up to Jonestown, San Francisco officials and journalists had looked the other way while Jones acted as a law unto himself. So what if he abused children, sodomized a follower, tortured and held temple members at gun point, and defrauded the government and people of welfare and social security checks? He believes in socialism and so do we. That was the ends-justifies-the-means attitude that enabled Jim Jones to commit criminal acts in San Francisco with impunity. The people who should have stopped him instead encouraged him.
Mayor George Moscone, who would be assassinated days after the Jonestown tragedy, appointed Jones to the city's Housing Authority in 1975. Jones quickly became chairman, which proved beneficial to the enlargement of the pastor's flock--and his coffers, as Jones seized welfare checks from new members. One of the Peoples Temple's top officials becoming an assistant district attorney, a man so thoroughly indoctrinated in the cult that he falsely signed an affidavit (ultimately his child's death warrant) disavowing paternity to his own son and ascribed paternity to Jones, similarly enhanced the cult's power base within the city. How, one wonders, did victimized Peoples Temple members feel about going to the law in a city where Jones's henchman was the law?
Going to the Fourth Estate was also a fruitless endeavor, as San Francisco media institutions, such as columnist Herb Caen, were boosters of Jones and his Peoples Temple. When veteran journalist Les Kinsolving penned an eight-part investigative report on Peoples Temple for the San Francisco Examiner in 1972, his editors buckled under pressure from Jones and killed the report halfway through. Kinsolving quipped that the Peoples Temple was the "the best-armed house of God in the land," detailed the kidnapping and possible murder of disgruntled members, exposed Jones's phony faith healing, highlighted Jones's vile school-sanctioned sex talk with children, and directed attention toward the Peoples Temple's massive welfare fraud that funded its operations. "But in the Mendocino County Welfare Dept. there is the key to Prophet Jones' plans to expand the already massive influx of his followers--and have it supported by tax money," Kinsolving wrote more than six years before the tragedy in the Guyanese jungle. "The Examiner has learned that at least five of the disciples of The Ukiah Messiah are employees of this Welfare Department, and are therefore of invaluable assistance in implementing his primary manner of influx: the adoption of large numbers of children of minority races." Unfortunately, four of the series' eight articles were jettisoned after Jones unleashed hundreds of protestors to the San Francisco Examiner, a programmed letter-writing campaign, and a threatened lawsuit against the paper. The Examiner promptly issued a laudatory article on Jones. A few years later, after Jones had moved operations from Ukiah to San Francisco, California, a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle penned an expose on the Peoples Temple. A Chronicle editor sympathetic to Jones spiked that piece, which ultimately made its way to New West magazine and so alarmed Jones that he hastily departed San Francisco for his agricultural experiment in Guyana.
California Governor Jerry Brown and Jim Jones
By virtue of producing rent-free rent-a-rallies for liberal politicians and causes, Jim Jones engendered enormous amounts of good will from Democratic politicians and activists. They allowed their political ambitions to derail their governing responsibilities. Frisco pols like Harvey Milk never seemed to care how Jones could, at the snap of his fingers, direct hundreds of people to stack a public meeting or volunteer for a campaign. City Councilman Milk just knew that he benefitted from that control, and therefore never bothered to do anything to inhibit the dangerous cult operating in his city. Instead, he actively aided and abetted a homicidal maniac. It wasn't just local hacks Jones commanded respect from. He held court with future First Lady Rosalyn Carter, vice presidential candidate Walter Mondale, and California Governor Jerry Brown.
A man who killed more African Americans than the Ku Klux Klan was awarded a local Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award and won the plaudits of California lieutenant governor Mervyn Dymally, state assemblyman Willie Brown, radical academic Angela Davis, preacher/politician Jesse Jackson, Black Panther leader Huey Newton, and other African American activists. From Newton, whom Jones had visited in Cuban exhile in 1977, Jones got his lawyer and received support, such as a phone-to-megaphone address to Jonestown during a "white night" dry run of mass suicide. This was appropriate, as it was from Newton whom Jones appropriated the phrase "revolutionary suicide"--the title of a 1973 Newton book--that he used as a moniker for the murder-suicides of more than 900 people on November 18, 1978. "We didn't commit suicide," Jones announced during the administering of cyanide-laced Flavoraid to his flock, "we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world." Newton's comically idiotic slogan boomeranged on him, as several of his relatives perished in the Kool-Aid carnage.
It's worth remembering that before the people of Peoples Temple drank Jim Jones's Kool-Aid, the leftist political establishment of San Francisco gulped it down. And without the latter, the former would have never happened.
posted at 12:52 AM